Hundreds of people across Sussex have been able to give up smoking with the help of special smoking cessation services.

The schemes use a combination of one-toone help, group support and information to encourage people to kick the habit.

IT may be nearly the end of January but there are still a lot of people around determined to mark the start of 2003 by improving their health.

Stopping smoking is often thought of as the most obvious of resolutions but the results of a national survey by Scape (Smoking Cessation Action in Primary Care) have shown that, contrary to popular belief, only three per cent of smokers try to stop every New Year.

In fact, 25 per cent of Britons believe New Year is a good excuse to delay giving up rather than a motivation to stop.

Sixty-three per cent of those surveyed stated they had previously gone "cold Turkey" or used willpower alone to try and give up cigarettes but 61 per cent of them found they had returned to smoking within a month.

It is well known that only three per cent of smokers who quit using willpower alone are successful in their attempt to stop.

Scape chairman and GP Alex Bobak said: "New Year is traditionally a time for reassessing and making resolutions about our behaviour.

"For smokers, this provides an excellent opportunity to take stock and consider whether they want to spend another year smoking.

"Providing they carefully plan their quit attempt, this offers an ideal kick start for a healthy new year."

Clinical studies have demonstrated that medical treatment combined with advice and support gives smokers the best chance of successfully stopping.

Most smokers find it difficult to give up because the nicotine in cigarettes is as addictive as hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

However, there are effective treatments available on prescription from your doctor which can reduce nicotine cravings and more than double a smoker's chance of giving up tobacco.

The survey results also showed that 79 per cent of UK smokers would like to give up although 26 per cent have never tried to give up.

Nine per cent of British smokers did not know their GP could help them to stop smoking while 46 per cent who used a stop-smoking medication said they found their method either fairly or extremely easy.

Specialist cessation services are now available in Brighton and Hove and East and West Sussex.

People who are interested can get more information from their GP about services available in their area.

The specialist smoking cessation service based at the Conquest Hospital in Hastings also offers free and friendly support from expert advisers in some GPs' surgeries, particularly in the rural Rother area.

Diana Craddock, from Bexhill, has smoked since she was a teenager. She said: "I tried several times to give up alone.

I really wanted to stop smoking before I hit 50 but somehow never managed it.

"My friends told me about the smoking cessation service and I went along to the clinic.

"The best thing for me was having a counsellor who talked to me about why I wanted to smoke.

"After a while I found I was thinking, 'I am not quitting because I have to, I'm stopping because I want to,' and that made all the difference."

Health officials in East Sussex have issued a few tips to help people successfully give up:

MAKE sure you really want to stop and don't try to stop straight away
PLAN so you can avoid "tempting" situations
TELL family and friends - they can provide support and encouragement
TAKE it one day at a time.

The NHS, in partnership with local councils across Sussex, has produced a Smoke-Free Guide To Eating And Drinking.

The booklet is a directory of places that serve food and drink in a non-smoking environment; either they are totally smoke-free or they provide a no smoking area.

If people are trying to quit, this is especially important as it helps avoid situations where they might be tempted to smoke.

The booklet is available at council and information offices and GP's surgeries.